4:42 p.m and the stroke of a pen: We need to talk about Justice
My work is about celebrating the beauty of moments in places. I've been blessed with the freedom to grow up in a land of peace and prosperity, and to travel the world both for inspiration and to share that story.
Today I want to do something unprecedented on my website, it's time to say something unflinchingly political. It is necessary, when one witnesses injustice, to speak up, and to call it out. I'm reminded of the often quoted words of German pastor Martin Niemöller, 'First They came...'
The very opening paragraph of President Trump's executive order speaks about 9/11 and the reason for this order being to prevent terrorism. Of the attackers of 9/11, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, 2 from the United Arab Emirates, 1 from Egypt, and 1 from Lebanon. None were from any country on this list. The order is not just a ban on new refugees coming, nor on refugees from just those countries, but on all refugees, including those who were already vetted, those who had been cleared, those who had made plans and whose relatives had sponsored them, and even those who were in transit.
But the ban went further than refugees, it also included anyone with a valid green card, anyone with any kind of visa, even student visa, even a transit visa (which only allows you to pass through an airport). The order took place with immediate effect, so that there were hundreds of people who got on flights with valid visas, only to find themselves in limbo when they landed. A vet from Glasgow with a PhD from a University in Italy and a Passport from Iran was denied boarding on her flight home from her holiday after arriving at the airport.
This also affects those with dual citizenship, whether Irish and Iranian, British and Sudanese, or otherwise. There are many living in the UK and indeed the US who have had to leave their country of birth, who are now suddenly banned from travel. Regardless of what passport they travel on, if they are also a citizen of one of the 7 countries, their US visa is revoked. The order's reach even includes Hollywood. Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, he won previously in 2012, but is now no longer allowed attend, for no reason other than the whim of a man with a pen. No debate, no warning.
Last year, US-based British Comedian John Oliver shared a segment about translators who had risked their lives in the service of the US Military in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the lack of support they had faced in having their promised visas processed. While it's unacceptable that these families have had to wait through so many years of uncertainty, it's abominable and shocking that they could face arrest for no reason other than the whim of a populist politician with no parliamentary process. It doesn't seem like it should be even possible for such an edict to become a law, when it is an affront to the notion of justice.
Yesterday, two men, unknown to each other, but linked by their circumstances, were detailed and were separated from their families in JFK Airport. One of them was 53-year old Hameed Khalid Darweesh, an Iraqi who had worked with the US Army from 2003 as an interpreter and engineer. He had lost colleagues and friends and had to flee because of his assistance to the US Military. He was travelling on an SIV Visa granted January 20th 2017, just six days shy of two years after being approved for it. He was due to arrive a few hours later in Charlotte, North Carolina where he and his family were to receive refugee designation.
As I write this, I'm doing something else unusual, I'm praying, and I'm sharing that because I feel so strongly about it that I want to be honest, and I'm also finding tears hitting me as I research and fact check each point. It's a relief now as I'm receiving a breaking news update to say that this first man has been released, but the randomness of those who managed to get through immigration before their visas were revoked being allowed stay, and those who didn't being held in limbo is beyond my comprehension, and the arbitrary discrimination against just seven countries equally evades logic. The only link is that in almost all of them there is great suffering.
Worse still, is the component of the edict that both temporarily bans all refugees, regardless of where they come from, again, many of these people in greatest need were already in transit and there are scores at present detained in airports or who have had their rescue taken away.
The second man, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, 33, worked as an accountant for a US Defence Contractor. He was travelling from Stockholm, Sweden on a visa allowing him to join his wife, to whom he has been married for 9 years, and their 7-year-old son. He was denied entry, denied access to his lawyers and denied permission to make an asylum claim, all of which are a contravention of his rights, as far as things stand as I write this. He, thankfully now too has been released. While he was not arriving as a refugee, his wife and son did, (having had family members murdered by insurgents as a direct result of their work) before becoming permanent residents. Under United States law as well as human rights conventions, the United States may not return a noncitizen to a country where she may face torture or persecution.
This line from Trump's executive order is clearly demonstrative of the order's hypocrisy and blatant bastardisation of the US constitiution:
Here is Vice President Mike Pence who stood by and let this happen in 2015: "Calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional."
Speaker Paul Ryan called Barack Obama an 'overreaching' emperor' for trying to reduce gun violence via executive order, but here he says 'This is about keeping Americans safe. I applaud President Trump', but before Trump won the nomination he said this, "Freedom of religion is a fundamental constitutional principle. It’s a founding principle of this country. This is not conservatism. What was proposed yesterday [a ban on people from certain muslim countries] is not what this party stands for. And more importantly, it’s not what this country stands for.”
Twitter serves as a great record of statements by politicians, and yet now too many Republicans stand not in silence, but in collusion with Trump, I've quoted just two of them.
If your representatives has done the same, call your representatives and shame them on their hypocrisy, remind them of their own words, and demand that they debate and make a law to 'delete' this wrong from history, and if your representative is speaking out, as more and more are, thank them.
That this order took place on International Holocaust Memorial Day, in the context of the harrowing suffering of the citizens of Syria, should serve as a reminder that no matter where we live, we all we have a responsibility to all those who are suffering and in need of refuge, especially if we follow a faith, and no country has shaped their identity on this mission more than the United States of America.
In October Theresa May said “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means," but no matter what narrow minded people say, you sometimes need to cross the street to find your neighbour, and what defines neighbourliness is what defines citizenship.
Lest we forget the inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
The foreign ministers of France and Germany earlier today (Saturday) held a press conference to denounce this executive order after being criticised earlier for not responding directly to a question by Sky News political editor Fasil Islam, British Prime Minister Theresa May released a statement shortly after midnight (Sunday) through a spokesperson to the Guardian newspaper saying that the UK disagree with the method of the order and will make representations against the impact on UK Citizens.
The United Nations in Geneva have stated, "We strongly believe that refugees should receive equal treatment for protection and assistance, and opportunities for resettlement, regardless of their religion, nationality or race."
When people have travelled legally and with permission, after a long wait, and when their need of refuge is great, it makes no sense to treat them with cruelty. The natural answer is compassion. What's incredible and encouraging is that in the time that I've written this post, the facts have changed, and that shows that that we can make a difference by demanding fairness and facts, and the individual stories of those that this order has affected are now coming to the fore, and their gentleness and love for their new homeland shows us a truth that cuts through the lies of 'alternative facts'.
It's also caused me to speak out publicly and say that I am grateful for the opportunity to travel, and for the opportunity to live peacefully, and I am proud of those who defend that right for those who do not have it.
Here are just some of the stories of people who have been affected by this order, gathered by the New York Times:
And here is a well researched and short post by a travel blog I follow One Mile at a Time on the situation.